Morten Ø. Jensen, Emad Tajkhorshid, and Klaus Schulten. Electrostatic tuning of permeation and selectivity in aquaporin water channels. Biophysical Journal, 85:2884-2899, 2003. (PMC: 1303569)

JENS2003 Water permeation and electrostatic interactions between water and channel are investigated in the E. coli glycerol uptake facilitator GlpF, a member of the aquaporin water channel family, by molecular dynamics simulations. A tetrameric model of the channel embedded in a POPE membrane was used for the simulations. During the simulations, water molecules pass through the channel in single file. The movement of the single file water molecules through the channel is concerted, and we show that it can be described by a continuous-time random-walk model. The integrity of the single file remains intact during the permeation indicating that a disrupted water chain is unlikely to be the mechanism of proton exclusion in aquaporins. Specific hydrogen bonds between permeating water and protein at the channel center (at two conserved Asp-Pro-Ala (NPA) motifs), together with the protein electrostatic fields enforce a bipolar water configuration inside the channel with dipole inversion at the NPA motifs. At the NPA motifs water-protein electrostatic interactions facilitate this inversion. Furthermore, water-water electrostatic interactions are in all regions inside the channel stronger than water-protein interactions, except near a conserved, positively charged Arg residue. We find that variations of the protein electrostatic field through the channel, owing to preserved structural features, completely explain the bipolar orientation of water. This orientation persists despite water translocation in single file and blocks proton transport. Furthermore, we find that also for permeation of a cation, ion- protein electrostatic interactions are more unfavorable at the conserved NPA motifs than at the conserved Arg, suggesting that the major barrier against proton transport in aquaporins is faced at the NPA motifs.

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